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Japanese Medicine Container Makes World Record in an International Sale at Bonhams
A roiro lacquer four-case inro By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period £162,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams announced that a 19th century roiro lacquer four-case inro by Shibata Zeshin has made the world record price for on inro in an international sale, selling for £162,000 in Part 1 of the Edward Wrangham collection, one of Europe’s most important and comprehensive private collections of Japanese Gentleman’s accessories. The sale took place yesterday (9th November) at New Bond Street and made over £2million with 94% of lots sold by value.

Although estimated at current market levels, many of the coveted inro and netsuke offered by Bonhams sold for over ten times their pre-sale estimates to major international collectors, including some from the USA and Japan, who were all vying for the collection.

This private collection was formed by the late environmentalist, mountaineer, scholar and collector Edward Wrangham OBE. Considered the last of the great British collectors of Japanese art, Wrangham continued to add to his collection until his death last year, sourcing works of art from all over the world. His entire collection, which was also published and written about by Wrangham himself, comprises over 1000 pieces of inro, netsuke and Japanese sword fittings assembled over many decades.
Four out of the top ten lots comprised works by Shibata Zeshin, one of the most famous painters and lacquerers of the Meijii Period. A small lacquered fubako (document box and cover) skilfully rendered in a variety of textures sold for £74,400, over ten times the pre-sale estimate of £7,000 – 8,000. A rare grey and silver lacquer and kiri-wood four-case inro depicting a crescent moon amongst swirling clouds, sold for £66,000 against the pre-sale estimate of £2,500 – 3,000. The final work by Zeshin to be included in the top ten lots was a large single-case inro and kozuka (a handle that holds a small blade) that sold for £38,400.

Further highlights included a 19th century iron two-case inro by Hirata Haramusa, inlaid on both sides with irises in cloisonné enamel that sold for £96,000, against a pre-sale estimate of £3,000-3500. An exquisite gold lacquer four-case inro by Kaomi Nagaharu, dated 1852, depicts the Hyakunin Isshu (the Hundred Poets and their Poems) and examples of the poets’ works can be seen on each side. It sold for £60,000, ten times its pre-sale estimate of £5,500- 6,500. An 18th century four-case inro simulating a Chinese ink-cake, with a flaming dragon carving on one sideby Ogawa Haritsu, who was both a famous poet and lacquerer, exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £5,000 – 6,000 to sell for £52,800.

A superb netsuke also found itself within the top ten lots of the sale. An 18th century wooden netsuke of a dog, standing at only 3cm high sold for £38,400. This was created by Masanao, one of the most outstanding carvers of netsuke, showing a finely detailed, compact dog curled up with its head raised slightly.

**An inro (literally meaning sealed case) is a traditional Japanese case consisting of a stack of small, nested boxes that were used to carry small objects such as seals, tobacco and medicines; the netsuke is a small carving in wood or ivory that keeps the inro securely closed. Japanese men wore traditional Kimono and the inro were worn hanging down from the sash for all to see. After humble beginnings as functional items, between the 17th-19th centuries inro and netsuke were developed by some of Japan’s finest craftsmen into miniature works of art.

Bonhams | Shibata Zeshin | Edward Wrangham |

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